What George Mason Experts Are Saying about…the Prisoner Abuse in Iraq

Posted: May 24, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of occasional articles on what George Mason experts have to say about a current topic. These are personal opinions and do not reflect an endorsement by George Mason University.

Dennis Sandole
Dennis J.D. Sandole
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Dennis J.D. Sandole, Fulbright visiting professor of international studies in the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna and professor of conflict resolution and international relations in George Mason’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR), believes the events at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq are a disgrace and a moral and public relations disaster. “[These events] severely call into question the credibility of the United States as a defender of freedom, and of the Bush administration in its claims to be defending the Iraqi people against Saddam-era torture and the American people against further acts of terrorism,” Sandole says.

“The problem with the United States being involved with such events at the very same infamous Abu Ghraib prison where thousands of Saddam’s unfortunate victims were also tortured and often killed is that, in the glaring absence of weapons of mass destruction and of any connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, the United States loses its main pretext for having invaded and occupied Iraq, namely, to rid the country of the dictator and the torture chambers,” he says.

The likely impact of all this is to further enrage and motivate more Arabs and Muslims worldwide to commit acts of terrorism against the United States, Sandole adds. “The United States will win battles (in Falluja and Najaf), but lose the ‘war on terror,’ as well as the war in Iraq.”

Rich Rubenstein
Rich Rubenstein
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Looking at the war in context, Rich Rubenstein, professor of conflict resolution and public affairs in ICAR, sees similarities between these events and wars of the past. “The recent atrocities committed by U.S. troops and agents in Iraq and the counter-atrocities committed by some Iraqis all spring from the same source: the American effort to ‘liberate’ a people by occupying their nation against their will. The Iraq war is a colonial war, pure and simple,” he says. “Under such circumstances, the torture and abuse of prisoners is not an anomaly. As the history of the British in Africa, the French in North Africa, and the Americans in Southeast Asia demonstrates, it is par for the course in wars fought to suppress a popular insurgency. There is only one cure for this disease: the United States must leave Iraq, and soon.”

Walter E. Williams, John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics, looks at the controversy differently. In an editorial column published by WorldNet Daily recently, Williams writes, “These acts aren’t anything that Americans should be proud of, but at the same time, they don’t qualify as torture and atrocities so far as those terms have been historically defined. Moreover, they are mild in comparison to the kind of prison treatment to which Iraqis have become accustomed.

“Before we condemn our soldiers too much, we might consider that this war is the most humane war ever fought. In toppling the Saddam Hussein regime, there were relatively few non-combatant casualties. Afterward, our troops and American and foreign civilians went to great lengths to begin to rebuild the country, and much of that rebuilding has little to do with what was destroyed in war.

“How has this unprecedented effort been rewarded? Our soldiers have been ambushed and murdered by Hussein holdouts and Muslim fanatics. American and foreign civilians have been brutally murdered and their corpses treated in unspeakable ways—and all of this to the glee of large Iraqi mobs. We should keep in mind that our soldiers are humans. I think it’s understandable they might want revenge against perpetrators who’ve been involved with the murder and maiming of their comrades.

“Don’t get me wrong about this. Their actions are not to be condoned. But if President Bush and Congress want to know whether our soldiers’ actions constitute torture, I suggest they ask former American Japanese POWs or, better yet, ask former Hanoi Hilton resident Sen. John McCain.

“By the way, if our soldiers are to be court-martialed for anything, it should be for stupidity—stupidity of permitting photos to be taken of what they were doing.”

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